Simon Peter figures prominently in the drama leading up to Jesus’ death. Failing to stay awake and watch with Jesus, Peter wakes up and whacks off the ear of the high priest’s servant; after swearing unswerving fidelity and the impossibility of ever denying Jesus, he betrays him with great cowardice. Believing his vocation as a follower of Jesus is over, he returns to his fishing.
After the resurrection, Jesus pointedly seeks to restore Peter as a leader of the disciples (John 21:15-19). The appearances of the Risen Christ encompass both Jerusalem and the Galilee in the Johannine version.
Seldom do interpreters comment on Jesus’ great faith in renewing Peter to his vocation as an apostle of grace. Yes, this impetuous “speak before you think” fisherman was indeed a “rock,” and Jesus wanted him to be foundational to the movement galvanized by his resurrection. Once Jesus really gained his attention, the encounter John narrates so tenderly, Peter becomes one upon whom much could be built. Jesus’ own faith is critical to his reclamation of identity.
Early in Acts we see Peter functioning as Jesus intended. Preaching with power after the new outpouring of the Spirit, Peter articulates the early apostolic credo of the crucified and risen Christ (Acts 2:14-40). Luke credits Peter with essential leadership as the gospel is proclaimed in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
We see this restoration further at work in the story of Peter’s ministry to Tabitha (Dorcas) of Joppa. Evidently his powerful witness is becoming well known; when Tabitha died, her friends sent for Peter. His action is forthright, exercising great faith. After kneeling and praying with the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” And she does. “Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive” (Acts 9:41). Many believed in the Lord because of this sign of resurrection power entrusted to a follower.
Protestants have been wary of according too much importance to Peter, a reaction to the emblematic role he plays for Roman Catholicism. Elevating Paul over Peter has been ingredient to the exegesis of Luther that spurred the Reformation. The papal tradition with its focus on the “seat of Peter” has diminished our appreciation of his essential role in early Christianity. Indeed, he was a “rock” whose ministry hastened the evangelization of the Roman Empire. His story encourages us; the Risen Christ finds us also and renews our vocation that we might exercise great faith.
Molly T. Marshall
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